How long should Canada’s parental leave be?


Since having my first baby, I’ve always hoped Canada would follow the lead of more progressive countries and move towards a 2 year maternity/paternity leave with full pay, given with flexibility to either parent. Research indicates this would help reduce post-partum depression and anxiety and increase a new mom’s ability to continue breastfeeding. A 2 year leave would also help keep babies with parents until they are more developmentally ready to be with a childcare provider. But also importantly, and often unnoticed, is the parental leave’s impact on a couple’s ability to stay happily together. The longer a new dad is able to be home to support his wife in her recovery and breastfeeding and the more present he is with his new baby, the better the couple becomes at bonding. Here’s a long but good excerpt from Canadian psychologist and couples expert Sue Johnson, in her latest book, Love Sense, on this issue:

We, as a society, must…begin to seriously examine the impact of our laws and broad social policies on the quality of our most important relationships and foster a social structure that actively promotes secure and lasting bonds.

We might begin by looking at the implications of business policies on families, especially at times of stress and transition. We know that relationship breakdown often begins with the birth of a child. If we take this as a warning, what might we do differently? On a family level, we’d do well to follow the lead of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, which are already leaders in “bonding matters” policies. These countries offer between twelve and sixteen months of full paid leave to mothers and fathers, who can decide how to share that time between them. Canada offers almost a year off, but with much less renumeration….Parental leave makes financial, social, and love sense from many angles. It promotes marriage stability, gives mothers who usually shoulder most child care responsibilities some respite, fosters bonding between mother and child, and also promotes infant health, thus getting baby off to a good emotional and physical start. Studies also indicate that the longer the leave a father takes, the more engaged he is with his children and the better the youngsters do in developing mental and social skills. If governments want to support the most basic building block of society- committed couples and their families- offering solid paid leave to partners as they go through this critical transition makes excellent sense” (pp. 272-273, bold added by me).

In my pregnant couples workshops I ask the participants how much leave they believe a father should take when the baby is born. Every expectant father agrees that this is a once or maybe twice in a lifetime experience and one of the most important ones of their lives. So being there for this wives and for their newborns was a priority to them.

But expectant dads had big barriers to being able to do what they envisioned. Each one felt some anxiety about requesting more than 2 weeks off, although many hoped to have 4-8 weeks. They also felt enormous pressure to be promoted and bring in more income for their family now that their baby was coming. Part of this anxiety was because their wive’s salaries were going to be reduced during maternity leave.

These barriers are part of what is getting in the way of couples transitioning successfully to parenthood.  The more this is talked about, the less stigma new moms and dads will feel about asking their employers for more paid time when a baby arrives. And hopefully one day soon we won’t have to ask, and the amount of paid parental leave we really need will be a standard option in our policies.